The Shannon-Fisher Feud

Old Washington County Courthouse with the jail in the basement. None of the murderers in the Shannon-Fisher feud ever made it to the jail.

[Special shout-out to Legends of the Old West for their tireless work in collecting and preserving information about our past.]

On Saturday December 19, 1868, young Maurice K. Shannon joined a card game at one of Evansville’s taverns. The bustling town in the extreme southwest corner of Washington County sat nearly astride the border between Arkansas and Indian Territory and suffered a rough traffic of traders, cattle rustlers, whiskey smugglers, and other desperadoes who came and went alongside established local farmers and hopeful merchants who enjoyed a thriving commercial trade of everything from guns to gingham. Maurice grew up here, the eighth of twelve children in a thriving pioneer family. Like most young men, he was itching to prove himself.

Around the table betting alongside the eager eighteen-year-old were men experienced in games of chance including one known as Major Fisher.[1] As might have been predicted by any worldly-wise onlooker, Maurice suffered a distinct disadvantage in this company and soon exhausted his betting purse. Eager to redeem himself and undoubtedly encouraged by Fisher and company to further his embarrassment, Shannon wagered his horse and its saddle on the next hand.

He lost.

Shamefaced, the boy returned home to suffer the wrath of his father Granville Shannon whose fine personal mount and prized saddle had been the property so casually lost to a game of cards. History fails to describe what punishment might have befallen young Maurice. His father had endured hardship for all of his nearly seventy years and didn’t suffer fools lightly.

Soon after his son’s ignominious blunder, Granville rode into Evansville to settle the value of his loss. He demanded Fisher pay him thirty dollars. Bemused, Fisher paid up then put out the word that he wanted full reimbursement from Maurice.

Maurice met with Fisher about a week later on December 26th and tried to make his case. He flat didn’t have thirty dollars, an equivalent of $500 in the present day. Exactly what he said to Fisher, whether he offered terms for settlement or accused Fisher of cheating, is not known. Maurice stood at the bar debating his options of which he had few. The older man had no intention of letting him off the hook.

Finis[2] Shannon, seven years older than Maurice and concerned about his younger brother’s welfare among these hardened tinhorns, had trailed him into town. Now standing in the tavern doorway, he sized up Fisher where he stood some distance from Maurice. Fisher turned and Finis thought he saw the man draw a gun. Quick to defend his brother, Finis fired and shot Fisher through the head, killing him instantly.

Finis Shannon made no effort to escape as people reacted to the shooting.  He stood judgment in a hastily called court session before the township’s justice of the peace. After hearing multiple witnesses give evidence for and against and taking into consideration the history of the conflict, the justice found Shannon’s act to be justifiable and he was set free.[3] Thus began a drawn-out affair that would span more than a year of bloody retribution.

~~~

The infamous John King Fisher of Texas. Is this the man leading the Fisher Gang in Arkansas?

According to the story passed down since the time, John K. Fisher, brother of Major Fisher, had been away at the time of the shooting. He and a friend, Calvin Carter, had been ‘south’ to attend some horse races. On his return, John learned of his brother’s death and became outraged that Finis Shannon had gone free. Demanding a higher court of justice, John K. Fisher quickly saw to Shannon’s re-arrest and had him brought to Fayetteville. There, contrary to John’s expectations, the higher court also found Shannon’s act to be justified and set him free.

John Fisher vowed revenge.

~~~

Much of the lore surrounding the Shannon-Fisher feud had to do with the so-called Fisher Gang led by John King Fisher. His right hand men in this gang were Calvin H. Carter, James “Jim” Reed, Charlie Bush, and James Black. In particular, Jim Reed’s involvement has spilled a gallon of printer’s ink due to the fact that he was married to Belle Starr, a woman whose notoriety far exceeded the reality.

One account claims that the only reason Reed came into the picture was that his brother William Scott Reed had been killed in one of the original shootouts with the Shannons, and Reed wanted revenge. Scott Reed did die in the upcoming Evansville gun battle, but that’s beside the point.

This excuse, promoted by Glenn Shirley who was a kinsman of Belle and a Western writer of the mid-20th century, may have been part of his effort to show Jim Reed as a man brought into the fight against his will.[1] But months before the shoot-out over a card game, Jim Reed, John K. Fisher, Calvin Carter, and Charlie Bush were indicted on a federal charge of selling liquor in the Indian Nations. One of the witnesses was Finis Shannon.[2],[3]

After his failed attempt to put Finis Shannon behind bars for the death of Jarrett Fisher, John K. Fisher made it known around Evansville that he planned to kill Finis. His threat hung in the air as he and his friends lay low. Meanwhile, those close to the Shannon family had risen to Finis’ defense in court as well as in the community and made no effort to hide their disgust with the vigilante justice promised by Fisher.

In particular, Finis Shannon’s father-in-law, Dr. J. C. McKinney, had taken it upon himself to advocate for Finis, no doubt in an effort to ease the mind of his distraught daughter who lived in daily fear of Fisher’s promised retribution. The couple’s daughters Laura Alice and Sophie were only three years and one year old.

A month after Finis shot Major Fisher, on January 21, 1869, Dr. McKinney made his way along Evansville’s main street to George W. McClure’s store for a few purchases. John K. Fisher spotted him outside, followed him into the store, and after exchanging a few words, shot McKinney through the heart. He walked out as McKinney lay dying in the shopkeeper’s arms.

~~~

Do you have any information about this feud or the Shannons and Fishers? Please let me know–this is still an active investigation.

These pieces of the story are excerpted from Chapter 17, Murder in the County: Fifty True Stories of the Old West, by Denele Campbell. The Shannon-Fisher Feud winds on for over a year leaving dead bodies in its wake. For the full account and the collection of all the 19th century murders in Washington County Arkansas, obtain your copy of the book at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville or order from Amazon.com 

~~~

[1] One court record names him as Major Jarrett Fisher.

[2] A corruption of Phineas, ‘Finis’ is but one of several spellings found in historical records for this man. Also found is Fins, Finas, Finias, Finius, Finies, and Fines.

[3] Goodspeed 192-194

[1] Shirley, Glenn. Belle Starr and Her Times: The Literature, the Facts, and the Legends. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. Pages 86-93

[2] Jacket 68, pp 570-578 and p 241. Defendant Jacket Files for U. S. District Court Western Division of Arkansas, Fort Smith Division, 1866-1900. Records of District Courts of the United States 1685-2004, ARC ID: 201532. Record Group Number 21. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.A.

[3] Glenn Shirley’s account states that “On February 12, 1869, Finnis M. Shannon swore a writ against Fisher, Carter, Bush, and Black for introducing spirituous liquors into the Indian country, a crime for which Shannon had been arrested many times by Fort Smith federal marshals. In response to this capias, Deputy Marshal B. F. Little ‘proceeded to the Indian Nation’ with a posse of four men and ‘was gone in constant and active search for thirty-six days’ without finding his quarry.” Shirley has it wrong. Up until this time, Shannon had never been arrested.

Evansville in lower left corner of the county. Map circa 1909. Oklahoma to the left of the state line.

***History of Evansville from the 1889 Goodspeed History of Washington County, Arkansas:

This village was named in honor of Capt. Lewis Evans, who opened a store there about 1830. He was succeeded by Charles McClellan, and about 1838 a flood of merchants came in, bringing large stocks of goods to sell to the immigrant Cherokees, to whom large sums of money were due from the Government. As payment was delayed for fifteen years, many of these merchants failed, and the business interests of the town were seriously impaired. Soon after the town was laid off, Leonard Schuler established a tan-yard, the most extensive ever in the county. A horse-mill was built by Evans soon after he opened his store, and for a short time it supplied nearly the whole county with meal. There are now in the town two steam saw and grist mills, with cotton gins attached. The first was erected by C. E. Rose, in 1870, and the other by Littlejohn & McCormick, about five years ago.

The first schools in Evansville were taught by Allen M. Scott, who was succeeded by Mrs. Dr. Bartlett. For four years, from about 1874 to 1878, a graded school was maintained, but it has since been abandoned.

The business interests of the town are now represented by the following firms: J. A. Bacon, Basham & Goodrich, J. M. Chandler, J. R. Flinn, F. N. & N. B. Littlejohn and G. W. McClure, general stores; L. W. Rosser, cabinet maker; W. L. Childress, cabinet and wagon maker, and J. C. Ferguson, wagon maker. About one mile north of Evansville is a little village known as Greersburg, containing a store, a blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, a Masonic lodge and a school-house.

No known images of 19th century Evansville exist.

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The Health of Arkansas

Yesterday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson beamed as he announced a drop in the number of state residents receiving health insurance through Medicaid.

Today there are fewer Arkansans on Medicaid than when I took office in January 2015, while our state’s population continues to increase. In the last year alone, the rolls have decreased by 117,000 (10%). Because of the reduction in Medicaid enrollment, DHS is now projecting that it will spend roughly half a billion dollars LESS (taxpayer money) on Medicaid in SFY’19 than anticipated in the biennial budget.

Perhaps to some, this is great news. We’re saving money! Woopee! All those freeloaders out there sucking on the government teat are now out in the cold where they belong.

But wait. We’re talking about medical care here, people who are sick or disabled or otherwise unable to obtain health care because they can’t afford to buy insurance. By his own numbers, our governor just celebrated the fact that 117,000 people of Arkansas are no longer able to obtain health care.

Now maybe that’s not exactly true. Maybe some of those folks got well from cancer or liver failure or whatever caused them to qualify for Medicaid. Maybe some of them got great jobs and have insurance now through their employers. Maybe some of them became the sudden beneficiary of their Aunt Tilley’s fabulous estate. Or won the lottery.

Or maybe not.

The reduction might have something to do with the federal government’s deep cut in advertising about how to sign up for health care. Or the federal government’s reduction in the sign-up time period. Or the state’s questionable method of deciding who to remove from the program—the electronic data system currently in use automatically deletes anyone who doesn’t respond to a request for income information. As in, one lost piece of mail. One overlooked letter amid a pile of unpaid bills. One person’s inability to comprehend what is being asked of him as he undergoes chemotherapy.

Last year, the governor looked for all the ways he could reduce the amount of money Arkansas pays for health coverage. As reported in the Arkansas Times in the May 2, 2017, edition, the governor’s goal was to lower the income limits.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas expanded Medicaid via a unique policy known as the private option, which uses Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance plans for low-income Arkansans. The concept was later re-branded as “Arkansas Works” by the governor. The expansion covers adults who make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level — that’s $16,400 for an individual or $33,600 for a family of four.

The governor’s proposed changes to eligibility remove anyone who makes more than the federal poverty line (that’s $11,880 for an individual or $24,300 for a family of four) from the Arkansas Works program. Only people who make less than the poverty line would qualify going forward. That includes not just the beneficiaries who are covered by private option plans but also those who were deemed medically frail under Arkansas Works (the 10 percent of beneficiaries with the greatest medical needs, who are currently routed to the traditional Medicaid program rather than private option plans).[1]

So just to be clear, any single person earning more than $990 per month or head of household with spouse and two children earning more than $506 per person would no longer qualify for government assistance in gaining health insurance. This hasn’t yet been implemented because the federal government has not yet responded to Gov. Hutchinson’s request for the change. But really, governor?

Even the 138% of poverty level leaves lots of people without access to care. In 2013, 21% of Arkansas adults went without health care because of the cost. Do bragging rights automatically come to Gov. Hutchinson because that number dropped to 15% by 2016? What is 15% anyway, besides a seemingly small number?

The state’s estimated population is 3,004,279. Take away 23.6% of that for people below 18 years of age (non-adults). That leaves 2,295,270 adults. Fifteen percent of that equals 344,290 adults in this state without health care. That’s a lot of friends and neighbors.

In a November 2017 report, the Arkansas Times explained another proposed part of Hutchinson’s Medicaid ‘reform.’

Those between the ages of 18-49 would be required to work 80 hours per month; if they were not working, they would have to participate in job training programs or certain approved volunteer activities. Beneficiaries must be in compliance for nine months out of the year or they would be removed from the program for the duration of the year. Beneficiaries 50 or older would not be subject to the work requirement; exemptions would be available for others who met certain criteria, such as caring for dependent children.[2]

Studies have examined the realities of financial need in the United States and have come up with a set of numbers that reveal just exactly how morally bankrupt is the governor’s reasoning (along with the increasingly evident moral bankruptcy of the entire Republican party).

For a family with two adults and two children, the average cost of living in the United States hovered around $65,000 per year in 2015. The figure excludes discretionary spending on nonessential goods and services, such as leisure, entertainment and luxury items.[3]

To be fair, another source gathering economic data specific to locations gives credit to a lower-than-average cost of living in Arkansas. For a family of four in Little Rock, the average monthly cost is $2876.46. For an individual not paying rent, the monthly cost is estimated at $819.24.[4] However, in the governor’s proposed lower income limit, in neither case is there any ‘leftover’ income adequate to buy health insurance. In case you didn’t notice, the estimated average cost of living for Little Rock is $400 MORE than the cutoff income level for those seeking Medicaid coverage under the governor’s preferred income guidelines.

It’s no secret that Arkansas is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation. We rank 48th. We have higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and general poor health both physically and mentally. In particular, according to a January 1, 2018, report published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, from 2013 to 2016, “the percentage [of Arkansans] who reported that their mental health had not been good in 14 of the past 30 days rose from 14.7 to 16.4 [percent.]”

The report I’d like to hear from Gov. Hutchinson would show data about the number of marginally-employed people who have gained better-paying jobs. It would show how many of those suffering mental or physical illness have gained any improvement in their health. I’d like to hear that Arkansas is spending more, not less, on health care not only in direct services but in education—I’m talking about nutrition education, cooking lessons, and everything else humanly possible to teach people how to eat healthy—which, tragically, probably doesn’t include toaster pastries for breakfast.

I’d like to hear the governor talk about how vouchers and private schools won’t be allowed to siphon money away from public schools. I’d like to hear his analysis of how inadequate education leads to poor self-esteem and how a positive self-image is key to a person’s ability to pay attention to diet and exercise. I’d like to hear him talk about how a person who doesn’t feel good either mentally or physically is a prime candidate for substance abuse.

I’d like to hear the governor discuss the abysmal status of substance abuse treatment options in the state, a crushing health care issue that gets short shrift in public discussion. More on that in another blog.

The governor needs to say that fundamentals like good health and proper education make all the difference in how a person participates as a vital member of society or how he/she gains and maintains sufficient employment. He needs to say, again and again, that a person who is well, who has learned how to reason, and who recognizes the responsibility of self-care and citizenship is the kind of person we absolutely must gain a lot more of in this state.

At any cost.

~~~

[1] https://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2017/05/02/governors-proposed-cuts-to-medicaid-eligibility-will-increase-costs-for-working-poor-likely-to-increase-uninsured-rate

[2] https://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/state-still-awaiting-federal-approval-on-medicaid-expansion-changes/Content?oid=11322951

[3] Cost of Living https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/cost-of-living.asp#ixzz53JNGsNLI

[4] https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/in/Little-Rock

How to Grow More Ignorance in Arkansas

Arkansas continues to shoot itself in the foot with the recent passage of new regulations governing home schooling. As a new year begins, public hearings on the latest revisions are open only through January 17. After the public comment period, assuming comments fail to arouse concerns at the Arkansas Department of Education (under the leadership of evangelical Christian Johnny Key), the new rules will be submitted to the state Education Board for approval.

Members of the evangelical right have taken an increasingly militant stance about public education. Partly white flight from integration, partly concern over exposure to gay or minority students and the so-called liberal agenda, and partly public school difficulty in maintaining high educational standards in the face of inadequate funding alongside demand for extraordinary services in mainlining students with special needs, reasons abound for conservative parents to seek alternatives.

But by far the greatest reason for parents choosing to homeschool is their determination to teach religion. Evidently church alone isn’t enough to satisfy this need.

According to the surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, 91 percent of homeschooling parents are more concerned about the environment of schools and want to offer a religious (64 percent) and/or moral (77 percent) alternative.

Smaller-scale studies of parental attitudes have found the same thing, from the conservative fathers who try to form a moral cocoon around their children, to African-American families who want to foster a sense of racial pride in their children, to “quiverfull” families trying to have enough children to Christianize the United States by demographic transformation.[1]

Obviously none of these interests coincide with the need for good citizenship in a blended American society.

In Arkansas, where fundamentalist religious teachings flourish under the guidance of such groups as the Family Council (a conservative research, advocacy, and education organization), the self-explanatory Clark County Christian Home School Organization, and the even more self-explanatory Texarkana Organization for the Resolute Christian Homeschoolers, state lawmakers have signed off on the radical Christian agenda.

On the surface, it might seem a worthy effort to give parents more control over the education of their children. After all, parents love their children and want what’s best for them. The problem lies in the parents’ judgment about what is ‘best.’

Is it best for parents to be the sole instructor and judge of their children’s education? Is it best to prioritize religious beliefs over the U. S. Constitution? What if parents don’t care much about history or math or computer skills, but prefer their children only understand the Bible?

What is the responsibility of the state to ensure that it doesn’t end up with a significant number of young adults incapable of holding down a job, getting along with their neighbors, or functioning as a thoughtful voter?

The latest round of regulations, promulgated during the 2017 legislative session, clarifies requirements for homeschoolers moving in or out of the public schools  and in particular their participation in sports and other extracurricular programs. (Never underestimate the importance of football—and, to a lesser extent, other sports—as the state’s second religion.) As the numbers of homeschoolers have grown, so has the burning need to allow an overlap of public school football and homeschoolers.

Most importantly to anyone concerned about the nation’s future and the potential for our very own religious war, the new regulations remove the state entirely from any oversight of homeschoolers.

“[The statute] eliminates all state-mandated testing and reporting of courses taught and grades earned.”[2]

No one will know if home schooled students are learning any of the reasoning skills or basic facts essential to the maintenance and advancement of our society. No one knows or apparently even cares whether the parents are capable of teaching or well-educated themselves. Most of all, no one seems to care that isolated segments of the population are being given free rein to seclude themselves harboring potentially seditious motivations.

Parents wishing to cloak their children in fundamentalist Christian beliefs can blithely ignore scientific evidence of the earth’s geologic age or evolution of species. They can sidestep entirely the subject of human reproduction and its greater context in biology. Thousands may emerge from their ‘education’ with no knowledge of how babies are made or the use of birth control, much less how lifetimes of suffering might be avoided through pre-natal testing.

No one will know if students are learning that government is evil. No one will interfere if children are taught to ignore the political process or the vital responsibilities of citizenship. The state is stepping back, washing their hands, of the original dictates of the nation’s earliest leaders who recognized the importance of education. Will any of these children, or their parents for that matter, comprehend the urgent truth in the statements of our Founding Fathers?

George Washington: “The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.”

James Madison:  “Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.”

John Jay: “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at at cheap and easy rate.”

James Madison: “What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on each on the other for their mutual and surest support?”

Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. …Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

Surely not all homeschooled children will turn out to be close-minded religious zealots incapable of reasoned understanding of complex issues such as immigration, minority rights, or the nuances of gender and sexual orientation. But as the numbers of homeschoolers continue to increase in Arkansas and the state continues to back off any meaningful oversight, the potential for rabidly ignorant and potentially treasonous segments of our population increase exponentially.

[From a 2012 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]: The latest count of home-schooled students in Arkansas shows about 400 more students are learning at home compared to the previous year. The Arkansas Education Department said 16,405 students completed the 2011-2012 school year as home-schooled students. That’s compared with 16,003 in the prior year. …State records show that in 1986, 572 students were home-schooled in Arkansas. By 1992, the number was 3,140, and by 2002, 12,497 students were being taught at home. The 16,405 children home-schooled last academic year is equal to 3.5 percent of the state’s 468,000 public school students.[3]

The count in 2017 was 19,000.

~~~

To voice your concerns, view the draft rules at http://bit.ly/2BTClJb or email your thoughts to ADE.RulesComments@arkansas.gov

~~~

Yes, I’ve blogged about similar topics before.

The Poverty of Conservatism

Conscious Evolution

Treason in the Name of God is Still Treason

A Sword Cuts Both Ways

~~~

[1] https://newrepublic.com/article/122987/does-homeschooling-make-children-more-religious

[2] “Home-school rules redo gives parents more rein,” by Cynthia Howell. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Arkansas edition, December 30, 2017. Page 5

[3] “Number of home-schoolers in state rises again,” Associated Press. Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 10, 2012.

Last Minute Gift? Visit your local bookstore

Great gifts abound at your local bookstore. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, that means Nightbird Books on Dickson Street where you’ll find all my books on local history.

Check out Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West, a collection of murder stories from the 1800s here in this county.

Less expensive but just as intriguing, The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys chronicles the amazing journey of one pioneer family, also a local story.

Don’t live in Northwest Arkansas? Simple — check out all my books at Amazon.com

The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys

 

On Friday, Christmas Day 1874, and after more than two years of near-death tension, Bud Gilliland joined an energetic crowd at the Lewis Mills, a thriving Northwest Arkansas community along the Middle Fork of White River. In celebration of the season, proud horse owners lined up their snorting high-tempered steeds to compete in a favored recreation of those times, horse racing. The dusty race track stretched down the long valley. More than few friendly bets changed hands among the crowd as people craned their necks to see the red flag at the far end flapping in the stiff breeze.

Bud walked among the gathered horses, greeting people he’d known all his growing up years. He kept looking around, anxious to spot a particular face. If he saw Newton Jones, he knew what he’d do. He clapped his hand against the Colts pistol holstered at his hip. Hidden under his overcoat, the weapon wouldn’t provoke any outcry. At the right time, he’d put it to good use.

As it happened, this wasn’t a great place for someone feuding with a Jones.[1] The valley was the heart of Jones family lands. All the more reason for Bud to attend—he was sure to encounter Newton here. He paced a distance from the crowd, squinting under the overcast sky as he searched, finally satisfied the younger man wasn’t here yet. Bud squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. He’d waited long enough for this lily liver.

Newton had already saddled up when he got wind of Bud’s presence at the races. He’d been lying low, afraid of what Bud might do next. But as the season of holiday gathering approached, he’d decided he had to confront Bud, knowing the likelihood of his appearance at the races and infuriated over the near miss he’d suffered in Bud’s sights two years earlier. Bud’s brief time in jail hadn’t subdued him any. Those damn Gillilands thought they could get away with anything. And they damn near had.

Newton knew what it would take. He had a wife now and a baby on the way. The time for dangerous tomfoolery had ended.

A cold breeze ripped through the crowd as a man on a horse galloped in from the roadway. Bystanders had no time to react as Newton pulled up in a cloud of dust, whipped his Spencer rifle from its saddle scabbard, and quickly centered Bud in his sights. He took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger.

In a mere second, the leaden ball found its target. Shocked, Bud looked up into the eyes of his foe. A few men shouted amid the collective gasp as the gunshot echoed up the hillside.

The event would set off a chain reaction that would forever resonate through the region and the Gilliland and Jones families. Not only Bud but his two brothers Jeff and Fine would face other men at the point of a gun, and the killing didn’t stop there.

~~~

 

[1] On Arkansas Highway 74 between Arnett and Sulphur City, sometimes marked as Hicks, Arkansas

~~~

In the completion of my recent book, Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West, it became apparent that three of the fifty murders profiled there were committed by members of the same family! Intrigued, I researched more about these folks and the result is now published under the title The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys. Fascinating and shocking, this story features more twists and turns than an Ozarks dirt road.

The death of Bud surely grieved his father. But before the curtains closed on these descendants of J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland in 1890, two other sons and a grandson would die a violent death while yet another grandson serves hard time for murder.

What was it about the Gillilands?

This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and bad luck.

Available in paperback at Amazon

The Poverty of Conservatism

 

A continuing crisis plagues Arkansas. Like a snake eating its tail, poverty, addiction and mental illness, teen pregnancy, sexual violence against women, and low educational achievement perpetuate themselves as a result of entrenched conservative thinking. Costs for addressing these problems continue to skyrocket while the state’s earning power lingers near the bottom.

Where do we cut the snake?

Arkansas ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of poverty. In 2015, 19.1% percent of the state’s households—one fifth—have incomes below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.[1]  For 2016, the state’s population of 2,887,337 included 550,508 people living in poverty.[2]

In a direct correlation to the poverty rate, the state ranks 39 out of 50 states in how well students are educated.[3] The state slips further down the scale for persons 25 years of age when considering the following factors: Only 84.8% graduate high school. Only 21.1% obtain a bachelor’s degree, a ranking that puts Arkansas at 48th out of 50. And only 7.5% obtain graduate degrees, a rank of 49 out of 50.[4]

We hover near the bottom at 46 in terms of mental illness in a compilation of 15 factors including all ages, availability of treatment, and addiction rates.[5] Between 2010 and 2014, over one third of teens in need of mental health treatment did not receive it while over 53% of adults did not. Only 20% of Arkansas residents with drug dependence and 10% with alcohol dependence received treatment.[6]

The state consistently ranks in the top five for teen pregnancies with up to 80 births per 1000 occurring among teen girls ages 15 to 19. Of these, 60% are white, 27% are black, and 11% are Hispanic. Counties with the highest rates included Sevier, Nevada, Arkansas, St. Francis, Mississippi, Jackson, and Randolph.[7]

According to a 2014 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Children born to teen parents are more likely to enter the child welfare or juvenile justice systems and to become teen parents themselves. Every year, thousands of young Arkansans enter one or both systems. Research shows that, nationwide, the children of teen mothers are twice as likely to be placed in foster care as their peers born to slightly older parents. Sons of teen mothers are 2.2 times more likely to be incarcerated than the sons of mothers aged 20 to 21.[8]

The crisis becomes most apparent in the number of Arkansas children in foster care. From March 2015 to March 2016, the total number of available and in-use beds in foster homes increased from 2,801 to 3,306, but the number of foster children also increased, from 4,178 to 4,791. A 2016 report states that substance abuse by caregivers accounts for over 50% of children in foster care.[9]

Despite such high rates of teen pregnancies, many Arkansas school districts do not provide any sex education. Many others offer abstinence-only education including a virginity pledge (14 districts[10]), a ridiculous non-starter since census records show that over 52% of Arkansas teens are sexually active. Only seven school districts provide comprehensive sex education addressing contraceptives, sexually transmitted infection, abortion, and sexual orientation.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 37.4% to 38.5% of women in Arkansas experience at least one event of sexual violence during their lifetimes. These experiences include rape, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.[11] Among sexually active teens, 18% of females report acts of violence (being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating) and 16% reported being raped.[12]

Are Arkansas citizens somehow genetically predisposed to suffer these conditions? Is it something in the water? Or might the answer be found in the conservative mindset of a majority of Arkansas citizens?

Arkansas ranks 5th in the number of churches per capita. Seventy percent of adults define themselves as ‘highly religious’ with 65% saying they pray daily and 77% saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.[13] The predominant religion practiced in Arkansas is Southern Baptist, a conservative Protestant sect which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, any push for sex education and contraceptives in public schools provokes conservative outrage. By religious thinking, unwanted pregnancies serve as punishment for illicit sex. The burden borne by women in unwanted pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare is God’s retaliation for the sins of Eve. As stated in Southern Baptist doctrine, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”[14] Prevention either through birth control or abortion upends the natural order of things as ordained by God.

The prevailing idea of conservative parents is that talking about sex and especially advocating for birth control of any kind creates a permissive attitude wherein teens are more likely to have sex. Data clearly dispute this belief. But the refusal to accept widely accepted evidence about the effectiveness of sex ed fits perfectly with the greater mindset of religious conservatives: willful ignorance about any and all information that doesn’t square with religious teachings.

Under the belief that addiction or non-marital sexual activity are moral failings, many efforts to address non-marital sex, sexual abuse or substance abuse rely on faith-based programs. Yet as noted by a counselor with twenty years in faith-based addiction treatment, “Often times, Christian programs view the secular approach to recovery as counterproductive to their message and will often discredit and even disregard medical or empirical based advice to addiction recovery.”[15]

While embracing some aspects of modern science and the advances of civilization such as automobiles, cell phones, DVRs, and medical progress, conservatives refuse to acknowledge other key findings of our times. Early religions strictly regulated a woman’s sexual activity out of concern for proving paternity and reducing conflict between competing males, among other things.  None of that matters today. Genetic testing quickly solves questions of paternity. But religion has become so institutionalized its practitioners can’t back up far enough to consider its origins or usefulness.

There’s a blind adherence to the tradition of making babies as the primary goal in life.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that teen pregnancy leads to lack of education which in turn leads to poor employment opportunities, or that a state with a high rate of poorly educated adults won’t attract many employers. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that poorly educated people with poor job opportunities are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol or suffer other forms of mental illness. Inadequate nutrition also plays a role, another cause and result of mental illness and poverty.

Further, an embattled position in poverty with subpar education leads people directly to unreasoned fear of Other—xenophobia and racism.

We have to start with the head of the snake. If we hold any hope of interrupting this vicious cycle, our state and national educational standards must require sex education. Such requirements must be imposed even in private, religious, and home school settings.

The requirements can’t stop there. All children must be required to learn the basics of science, history, political science, and other fields that serve as major elements in critical thinking about the modern world. While the state cannot dictate whether someone embraces any particular religion, we can dictate that our children are adequately prepared to make an informed choice about what to believe.

We cannot allow reactionary religious beliefs and tribalism to undo what civilization has achieved thus far.

The hue and cry against such reforms in education will be loud and long. State and federal legislators will be hard pressed to maintain a firm stance in the face of entrenched dogmatic beliefs. It will take true leaders to enact reforms in a time when leadership seems missing from public life. That means we must elect educated progressives who will carry the weight. The future of our nation depends on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

[2] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/arkansas-2016-report/

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education  The

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

[5] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states

[6] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Arkansas_BHBarometer.pdf

[7] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach,” Ginny Monk. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Sunday September 24, 2017. Page 1.

[8] http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-in-arkansas.aspx

[9] “Children in foster care in Arkansas reaches all-tine high.” Brian Fanney. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 22, 2016. Online access October 18, 2017

[10] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach”

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-StateReportBook.pdf

[12] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/arkansas/index.html

[13] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=arkansas

[14] http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp

[15] http://www.addictioncampuses.com/resources/addiction-campuses-blog/3-reasons-christian-rehabs-dont-work-according-to-a-pastor/

 

The Old West

In the completion of my recent book, Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West, I discovered that three of the fifty murders profiled there were committed by members of the same family! Intrigued, I researched more about these folks and the result is now published under the title The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys. Fascinating and shocking, this story features more twists and turns than an Ozarks dirt road.

Christmas Day horse races 1872, Middle Fork Valley.  Young Bud Gilliland waits, eager for another chance at his neighbor Newton Jones. Only this time, after two years of sparring, Newton gallops up in a cloud of dust, aims his Spencer rifle, and sends Bud to a well-earned grave.

The death of Bud surely grieved his father. But before the curtains closed on these descendants of J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland in 1891, two other sons and a grandson would die a violent death while yet another grandson served hard time for murder.

What was it about the Gillilands?

This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and plain old bad luck.

Paperback now available for only $9.95 at. Don’t miss it!